As merchants prepare to navigate holiday sales spikes, they should focus on proactive triage. By addressing common questions and straightforward topics before shoppers dial the call center, sellers save their valuable in-person live help resources for the most complex cases.
That doesn’t mean merchants should rely on generic content or “canned” responses to divert shoppers. Instead, merchants should view proactive service as an opportunity: by identifying where shoppers get stuck and delivering the right information at the right time to overcome purchase hurdles, sellers demonstrate that they understand their customers’ needs and honor their concerns.
Address customer pain points with key content
To pinpoint likely questions -- including those specific to the holiday season -- merchants should be sure not only to address current hot topics, but also to mine prior years’ peak-season data from the call center, email and live chat logs, and social media. Although concerns will vary by industry and business, every merchant is likely to need to address:
- Fit issues. The inability to touch and try items online is the reason 62% of shoppers still prefer stores, according to Retail Dive, and the problem is compounded during the holidays, when more than half of gift seekers consider apparel purchases for others, a Deloitte survey found. Online sellers should over-communicate sizing and dimensions, including in FAQs and proactive chat.
- Assembly how-tos. Gift givers who want to put presents under the tree already assembled need help with setup -- sometimes in the wee hours when live tech support isn’t available. Ready access to how-to videos and manufacturer manuals will help customers get the job done.
- Delivery timeframes. Linc found that some 40% of customer service calls are related to WISMO -- that is, “Where is my order?” -- and shipping speed is the number one customer service concern when shopping online, according to an ICSC survey. Merchants should communicate early and often about fulfillment options and shipping timeframes -- and during the holidays, when delivery timing is crucial, they should prominently message deadlines for ordering.
- Returns and exchanges. Given that some 28% of gifts are likely to be returned, according to a RedStag survey, it’s no surprise that Deloitte found the ease of the returns process factors into purchasing decisions for 60% of holiday shoppers. Merchants should translate return and exchange policies into plain English and promote them far beyond the fine print of customer service pages. Merchants should also implement automated assistants to help shoppers with their returns and exchanges questions.
- Store hours and services. In 2018, two-thirds of shoppers told Deloitte they planned to research online and buy in-store, and 45% said they would order online for store pickup -- making easy access to store information vital for the eCommerce site.
- Gift options. In addition to describing such services as gift wrap and corporate gifting options, merchants should prominently highlight information about gift cards, which continue to grow in popularity. The number of shoppers planning to buy gift cards has grown 23% in the past five years, with 54% opting for one during the 2018 holiday season, Deloitte found. Gift card information should also be available on all messaging platforms.
Syndicate for automation and interactive use
Once merchants have identified the customer needs specific to their products and audience and gathered information to proactively address those pain points, they should prepare content for use across multiple touchpoints.
To do so, sellers need to get creative with how content is packaged and promoted -- not simply cutting and pasting existing information from the customer service section of the website, but re-imagining how that content can be accessed by automated shopper assistance tools as well as by call center reps and by online shoppers themselves. Among the ways content should be developed and repurposed:
Provide self-service access anywhere.
More than 60% of U.S. consumers look for information themselves before attempting to contact a brand, according to a Microsoft survey, and still more -- 88% -- expect companies to provide self-service information, even if they don’t use it. To maximize the chances that holiday shoppers will find the information they need when they need it, merchants should not only develop self-service content, but create versions in different formats, lengths, and styles that can be used across multiple touchpoints. Among them:
- Throughout the eCommerce site path to purchase. While most merchants understand that the product page should provide all the information shoppers need to make a purchase decision, they shouldn’t neglect other key locations on the purchase journey -- from the home page to checkout -- where customer service content is helpful. Merchants should use analytics to identify where shoppers abandon the purchase path, and what content can be presented at those key junctures to encourage continuing.
- In graphical (and even video) formats. Visual content is increasingly important online, where four of the top five social media networks are image-centric, according to the Pew Research Center; as smartphones have proliferated, visual content is easier to view on small screens and to respond to with taps or swipes, versus lengthy typing. Using snippet-style pop-ups or video promos that link to more details, merchants can highlight service without diverting shoppers away from the purchase path. Similarly, short-form videos and easy-to-scan tables, graphics, and icons make information both eye-catching and easy to process for harried holiday shoppers.
- On social media. Some 39% of U.S. consumers have used social media for customer service, according to Microsoft, so syndicating critical holiday customer service content to social channels is a smart proactive move. Content should be tailored to the network and provide links to more extensive information on the eCommerce site.
- In stores. Omnichannel retailers should ensure that the trove of online customer service information is highlighted for the close to 60% of shoppers who conduct research in the aisles. Links to assembly instructions, customer reviews, and guidance on gift shipping and other services can all be promoted alongside products on shelves to enhance the store experience.
Parse content for automated intelligence.
Not only are some 40% of customer service contacts related to WISMO (“where is my order?”), but Linc estimates that fully 70% of customer service interactions can be fully automated, from requests for store directions and hours to questions about return and exchange policies to product information. By relying on AI-powered automated intelligence to handle these routine questions, merchants can not only save their human customer service corps for complex situations; they can also reach shoppers via new shopping touchpoints that rely on “conversational commerce.” Among them:
- Proactive live chat. Live chat is second only to phone service as the preferred channel for reaching live help, according to eMarketer, so merchants should implement it prominently on the eCommerce site, and prompt shoppers proactively to use it based on products under consideration, time on page or time on site, and prior order history, among other factors. Automating delivery of routine product and fulfillment information means merchants can confidently boost visibility of live chat without overburdening their customer support teams.
- Mobile SMS service. Currently, 1 in 10 consumers use SMS text messaging to communicate with businesses, according to ClickZ, and 91% of those who’ve opted in view the service as useful. Such services not only provide a direct means to communicate about shipment status and other transactional details, but can also be a means to encourage automated Q and A style interactions about product usage and reordering options.
- Social chatbots. It’s now estimated that some 80% of the global population uses one or multiple social messaging apps, according to eMarketer. Customer service chatbots launched on leading app Facebook Messenger in 2016, and merchants should take advantage of this opportunity to deliver one-to-one service at scale through the platform -- especially as 44% of U.S. consumers expect response times of under an hour on social media.
- Digital voice assistants. Fully 69% of consumers have now used a digital voice assistant, according to Microsoft, which predicts 75% of U.S. households will own a “smart speaker” by the end of 2020. As realms of search and shopping shift rapidly from text-and-keyboard based inquiries to voice commands and questions using natural language, merchants should position their brands for maximum visibility by integrating automated customer service responses with leading voice platforms.
You can learn more about the customer experience and how automating the shopper experience can engage your customers at every touchpoint by exploring Linc’s platform and solutions pages. Or take a look at how leading brands like Lamps Plus, JustFab.com and others are using an automated shopper experience platform as part of their customer experience strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.